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Monday, September 29, 2014

Gold Rush correspondence—Part 2: the begging for a letter letter

One of the most common themes in Gold Rush correspondence is loneliness, often expressed as a plea for more letters—or any letters—from home. Sometimes forlorn, sometimes passive aggressive, sometimes jocular, the tone of these letters varies, but the undercurrent of desperation remains the same. In this way, the genres of Gold Rush and prison literature overlap.

The letter below, written by John Tabor Alsap to his cousin, is a classic and very funny specimen of the “why hasn’t anyone sent me a letter” genre. Recently cataloged, its introductory paragraph made me laugh out loud. (The rest of the letter is pretty good, too.)

My Dear Cousin, 

I received your very welcome letter two days ago, and was truly glad to find that all my relatives had not forgotten my unworthy self. You will not believe it perhaps when I tell you, that out of the very large number of relations with whom I claim kindred I have not received a letter from any one of them for over two years. Indeed I had begun to think that I had no more relations and that I should be under the disagreeable necessity of marrying for new ones. But your kind letter has dispelled the unpleasant illusion and “Richard is himself again.” 

J. T. Alsap letter: Brownsville, Calif., to his cousin, 1857 May 19, MS 45, California Historical Society

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian 

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